In team sports, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association alternates its state tournaments between southern and northern Nevada venues. With the state volleyball tournament being played at Reno's Galena High School this coming weekend, the top two Division I Northern Region teams will be in action.
Spanish Springs fell to Bishop Manogue in last Saturday's regional final, but had already clinched a state berth thanks to wits win over Galen a night earlier. With its new life, Spanish Springs (35-7) is gearing up for a state semifinal Friday night against Sunset Region champion Bishop Gorman (24-9). First serve is scheduled for 6:20 p.m.
North champion Manogue meets defending state champ and Sunrise Region champion Green Valley at 8 p.m. in the other semifinal.
Spanish Springs and Gorman both competed in the season-opening Las Vegas Invitational in late August, but did not meet in pool or bracket play.
"We watched them play in a tournament this year," fifth-year Spanish Springs coach Frank Sandomenico said. "We didn't get to play them but they're good, well coached. They have a good, strong outside hitter, good height and a good setter. We were hoping to play them in Vegas but we didn't get to."
So what does Gorman know about Spanish Springs?
"I really don't know much," long-time Gaels coach Ed Van Meetren said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. "They were in a tournament we were at earlier in the year, but I was gone and didn't get to watch them play. I have some game film coming on them. I just know they're a good, solid team with good outsides."
The state tournament is nothing new to Gorman. The Gaels are getting their third straight invitation to the big event. Conversely, Spanish Springs is making its first-ever appearance at state. Spanish Springs, in its 12th year of existence, had never even made the playoffs prior to 2009. four-year starters Lyndsey Anderson, the reigning player of the year in the North, and Melly Munley were freshmen on that team and have led the Cougars' surge into the state's volleyball elite.
"These girls have worked so hard for this," Sandomenico said. "This group of juniors and seniors, what they've accomplished is pretty amazing. In our first 10 years, we had one winning season. The last two, we've been to the regional championship. What they've been able to pull off, it's a special group of kids."
Both schools have had a formula for success this fall and both know sticking to it will be key when they hit the floor Friday.
"We have a pretty balanced team," Van Meetren said. "We only have two seniors but we've got a lot of balance. We can generate points from our middles or outsides. Our right side has been pretty solid as well ... The key for anybody will be how well you serve receive and how well your passing holds up. Will you be able to run consistent offense."
On the flip side, Sandomenico feels comfortable enough with what he believes Gorman will try to do. The Cougars' coach is most focused on what his club needs to do.
"We have to play our game, serve and pass. That must be the focus, along with defense," he said. "We feel like if we do those things, we can beat anybody. We beat Coronado from down there and Palo Verde. They both were undefeated in their league. We played Green Valley tough and took them to three games in the preseason tournament. We feel like, along with Gorman, those are the four best teams. We've proven we can play with those types of teams."
The long bus ride form Clark County to Reno is not something anyone looks forward to. Eight-plus hour bus rides certainly are not part of Bishop Gorman's normal travel routine. Still, Van Meetren said his team will make the most of it and he doesn't expect it to be a distraction or leave his club flat.
"We did bus to Phoenix but that's four or five hours," Van Meetren said. "So this is a long bus trip. We'll leave at 7 am Thursday and try to practice up there Thursday night. This is not something we're used to, but I'm not worried. it should give us a chance to focus and relax a little bit. I'd like to think we're still getting better here at the end. Several of our kids had their best matches all year last week. So hopefully, we're peaking at the right time."
The Cougars know they're only team with a playoff loss still alive and kicking for the state's final week of volleyball season. they know they certainly aren't the favorite heading into the weekend and Sandomenico said they don't care.
"We're taking the approach that we're underdog," he said. "Gorman and Manogue have a lot more resources than we do and Green Valley has got the tradition, so yeah we feel like we're the underdog ... We'll take it one match at a time, just worry about playing on Friday and see what happens on Saturday. If we play on Saturday, it's going to be against a great opponent. At that point, anything can happen.
"We like our matchup on Friday night. They have more height but we have more athleticism. I think we've got a couple edges we can take advantage of."